Tindak Malaysia is the winner of the ISIF Asia 2016 Technical Innovation Award and the Community Choice Award 2016.
TINDAK MALAYSIA: Towards A Fairer Electoral System –
1 Person, 1 Vote, 1 Value
A democracy is reflected in the sovereignty of the people. They are supposed to have the power to choose their leaders under Free and Fair Elections. Unfortunately, those in power will try to manipulate the electoral system to entrench their grip on power. Attempts to manipulate the system could be…
- in tweaking the rules of elections in their favour,
- in the control of the mainstream media,
- through threats,
- through bribery,
- through the pollsters to manipulate public perception,
- during the vote count,
- by making election campaigns so expensive that only the rich or powerful could afford to run or win.
- through boundary delineation either by gerrymandering, or through unequal seat size.
The Nov 2016 US Presidential Election threw up all of the above in sharp contrast. There were two front runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Both candidates were disliked by more than half the electorate,
Both candidates generated such strong aversion that a dominant campaign theme was to vote for the lesser evil. The people were caught in the politics-of-no-choice.
Eventually, the winning candidate won, with slightly less votes (0.3%), than the losing candidate, each winning only 27% of the electorate. Yet the delegates won by the winner was 306 (57%) while the loser got 232 (43%), a huge difference!
The winning candidate won with barely a quarter of the total voting population. 43% of the voters did not vote. In other words, only 27% of the electorate decided on the President.
Consider Malaysia. We are located in South-east Asia. We have a population of 31 million with about 13.5 million registered voters. We practise a First-Past-The-Post System of elections, meaning the winner takes all, just like in the US.
In the 2013 General Elections, the Ruling Party obtained 47.4% of the votes and 60% of the seats. Meanwhile the opposition, with 52% of the votes, won only 40% of the seats – more votes, but much fewer seats.
We had all the problems listed above except that no opinion polls were allowed on polling day. But the most egregious problem of all was boundary delimitation, which is the subject of our project.
In 2013, the Ruling Party with 47.4% of the popular vote, secured 60% of the seats. To hang on to power, they resorted to abuse and to change of the laws to suppress the Opposition and the people. Our concern was that continuing oppression of the people in this manner could lead to violent protests. It was our hope to achieve peaceful change in a democratic manner through the Constitution.
From a Problem Tree Analysis, it was found that the problem was cyclic in nature. The root cause was a Fascist Government maintaining power through Fraudulent Elections. See red box opposite.
Problem Tree Analysis
If current conditions prevail without any changes, they can still win power with just 39% of the votes.
50-Year General Elections Voting Trend
Malapportionment! The seats won by the Ruling Party in the chart below are the blue lines with small number of voters in the rural seats. The red lines with huge numbers are in the urban areas won by the Opposition. It was found that they could have won 50% of the seats with merely 20.22% of the votes.
Malapportionment in General Elections – GE213
The above computation was based on popular vote. If based on total voting population, BN needed only 17.4% to secure a simple majority.
What is the solution we propose?
The solution was obvious. Equalize the seats.
But for the past 50 years, no one seemed to object to the unfair maps.
Why? The objectors never managed to submit a substantive objection because:
- Biased EC stacked with Ruling Party cronies, who actively worked to prevent any objections being made,
- Constitution rules of delimitation drafted to make objections difficult, such that the EC had a lot of leeway to interpret it anyway it wished.
- Very high barriers to objection,
- Insufficient information offered during a Redelineation exercise. Given the 1-month deadline, it was impossible for an ordinary voter to prepare a proper objection.
We start with a Polling District (PD). The PD is the smallest unit of area in a Constituency. It is defined by a boundary, a name and/ID Code, and includes elector population. Map 1 is an example of PD. To avoid clutter, the elector numbers are carried in separate layer which can be overlaid on top.
Districting is conducted by assembling these PD into Constituencies. In theory, the Constituencies are supposed to have roughly the same number of electors, unless variation is permitted in the Constitution.
What happens when the Election Commission presents a map without any PD as shown in Map 2 below.
MAP 2 – EC’S SELANGOR REDELINEATION PROPOSAL 2016
This was gazetted by the EC on 15th Sept 2016 for public objections. No Polling Districts are identified. In reality, the EC had all the information in digital format under an Electoral Geographical Information System (EGIS) but they kept it from the public.
An elector faced with such a map, is stuck. He would not know where to begin. Neither did he have the technical knowledge to carry out the redistricting even if he wanted to, all within the time limit of 1 month.
This has been the case for the past 50 years. No one could object effectively.
So we had a situation where electors wanted to object but were unable to do so because of insufficient information and lack of expertise.
Studying the problem, we decided that the solution was to bridge the Digital Divide through Technical Innovation as well as to bring the matter out of the jurisdiction of the EC.
- Digitize all the PD in Malaysia, about 8000 of them. This took us 1 year.
- Learn how to redistrict using digital systems. We used QGIS, an open source GIS system,
- Develop a plug-in to semi-automate and speed up the redistricting process.
- Bring in legal expertise. Collaborate with lawyers to bring the matter out of the control of the EC and into the jurisdiction of the courts in order to defend the Constitution.
We started this initiative in July 2011 and by Dec 2015, we had digitised all the PD and redistricted the whole country twice, sharpening our expertise and correcting errors in the process. We got the Bar Council (Lawyers Association) to team up with us to guide the public on how to object when the Redelineation exercise by the EC is launched.
Redelineation, 1st Gazette:
On 15th Sept 2016, the EC published the First Gazette of the Redelineation Proposal. For the State of Selangor with 22 Parliamentary seats, they published one map only – MAP 2. We analysed their proposal and found glaring disparities in the seat sizes with elector population ranging from 39% to 200% of the State Electoral Quota (EQ) – MAP 3
At a more detailed level, it looks like MAP 4 below. We can see the densely populated central belt (brown columns) sticking out in sharp contrast to the under-populated outlying regions around the perimeter – ochre areas). Clearly the EC has not addressed the inequalities in the voting strength among the various regions.
Trial Run: We conducted a trial run on the EC maps for a local council in Selangor – MPSJ. See MAP 4. It was found that we could maintain local ties with 6 State and 2 Parliamentary Constituencies, with the elector population kept within +/-20% of the mean. This was much better than the EC’s range of -60% to +100%.
We have submitted objections for the First Gazette and await the call for a public hearing by the EC. Our lawyers are monitoring the EC to ensure they comply with the Constitution and preparing lawsuits in case they don’t.
While conducting our research on how to object, we uncovered yet another area of abuse. The boundaries of the polling districts and electors within, had been shifted to other constituencies unannounced. This was a surreptitious form of redelineation outside the ambit of the constitution and a gross abuse of authority. As part of our next project, we intend to focus on this, to prevent such gerrymandering.
In conclusion, we feel like we are peeling an onion. As we unfold one layer, a new layer of fraud is exposed. It was a never-ending process. But we are determined to keep on digging until we reach the core and achieve our goal of Free and Fair Elections.